Budget sets aside almost $250M to tackle sexual misconduct in the military

·3 min read
The federal budget invests millions to $236 million to address sexual misconduct in the military. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The federal budget invests millions to $236 million to address sexual misconduct in the military. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Liberal government has set aside hundreds of millions dollars to combat sexual misconduct in the military, bolster continental defence and reinforce Canada's commitment to NATO.

The new federal budget, released Monday, proposes to spend $236.2 million over five years at the Department of National Defence (DND), including $158.5 million at Veterans Affairs Canada, to address the ongoing crisis of sexual assault and violence in the ranks.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland's plan also commits to ongoing funding for both departments to make permanent a number of newly proposed initiatives.

Separately, the Liberal government plans to put $163 million over five years into the modernization of continental defence. Of that sum, $111 million is being set aside to revitalize NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defence Command.

"This investment would lay the groundwork for NORAD's future, including through research and development of cutting-edge technologies that can detect and defend against threats to the continent," says the budget document, which also earmarked $88 million over five years to maintain existing radar stations and northern defence infrastructure.

Two Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18s in flight.
Two Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18s in flight.(North American Aerospace Defense Command)

The budget commits to spending $847.1 million over five years to maintain Canada's rotating deployments of frigates and fighter jets to NATO, and more cash to cover increased contributions to the military alliance's overall budget.

The most immediate and high-profile of the budget's defence-related proposals targets the military's stalled — and, according to some critics, discredited — campaign to eliminate sexual misconduct from its ranks.

The budget recommits the government to creating "new external oversight mechanisms" for people who report sexual assault in the military.

A loss of trust

It remains to be seen whether the proposal will meet the demands of victims and legal experts who have argued the work of investigating sexual misconduct in the ranks must be taken out of the military's hands and turned over to an independent inspector general.

Many victims do not trust the chain of command when it comes to reporting assaults and worry about the career implications of stepping forward.

Among the budget proposals is a plan to expand support services to victims to include access to free, independent legal advice, and to enable "military members to access services without making a formal complaint."

The Liberal government is also promising to pilot an online in-person peer support group for members of the military and veterans who have experienced sexual misconduct during their time in uniform. That's something survivors of sexual assault in the military have been demanding for years.

The budget sets aside more money for research on sexual misconduct and to expand the reach of the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, which serves members of the Armed Forces.

DND says it plans to offer more specifics of its overall plan to address misconduct later this week.

The budget initiatives could be an attempt by the government to steal a march on the Parliamentary committees for defence and the status of women, which have been seeking input on policies to address sexual abuse and assault in the military and are expected to report soon.

No mention of promised independent probe

The budget made no mention of — and appeared to set aside no funding for — the independent investigation promised by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan in response to allegations of misconduct involving the country's two most senior military leaders.

Former chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance and the current top commander, Admiral Art McDonald, face separate investigations into allegations of inappropriate conduct involving junior female subordinates.

Sajjan has promised a systematic review of sexual misconduct in the ranks, with the aim of restoring confidence in the chain of command. That review has not yet been launched.

Separately, the budget also sets aside $140 million over five years for a program at Veterans Affairs Canada that would cover the mental health care costs of veterans with post traumatic stress disorder while their disability benefit applications are being processed.